Rookie Socceroo defender hammered for ‘honking’ and ’embarrassing’ Asian Cup effort – but pundit hails key contribution
He was Graham Arnold’s latest selection bolt from the blue – and he’s contributed to two clean sheets to start the Asian Cup campaign – but Gethin Jones has copped pelters from fans in the wake of his latest performance against Syria.
The Sydney Morning Herald football writer Vince Rugari described Jones as “honking” during Thursday’s scrappy 1-0 win over Syria while others questioned how the Bolton Wanderers defender is any better option than an A-League rival.
Arnie has two Scottish-based alternatives available in the squad in Hibernian fullback Lewis Miller and Hearts Nathaniel Atkinson.
Instead Arnold has opted for Jones, who had some previous experience alongside Harry Souttar. The 28-year-old was born in Perth and spent the first eight years of his life in Western Australia before heading back to the United Kingdom, and he represented Wales in under age teams from under 16 to under 21.
“He is one we have had our eye on for the last couple of years,” Arnold said ahead of the tournament.
“He wasn’t hard to convince but it does take time to get through the FIFA regulations to get him to change his registration.
“He probably would have been in the last camp but it didn’t come through in time.
“I went and watched him when I was in the UK. He was very impressive.
“Ryan Strain’s injury has given him that opportunity and it’s a position, the right full-back role, that we have been building strength and depth in, and we have taken three – with Nathaniel (Atkinson) and Lewis Miller.
“Nathaniel has only just come back from injury and he has only played two sets of 90 minutes. I do expect him to play another two or three games before we get into camp. But Gethin is one who was born in Perth and lived there until he was eight years of age before heading back to the UK. He has always wanted to play for Australia and has played for Wales at junior level.
“When I went to see him at Bolton Wanderers I was very impressed with him. He has had the privilege of playing with Harry Souttar before and so it is a great addition to the squad.”
Jones only made his debut in the Socceroos’ final warm up against Bahrain and has now started three games straight.
“I’ve known Arnie [Graham Arnold] and Reńe [Meulensteen] have been coming to the games at Bolton for quite a few months now,” he told FA Media.
“When I first had the chat with Arnie a couple of months back, he did tell me that there was a good chance of me going to the Asian Cup. He said that we wanted to win it.
“I’m not going to lie, it is nerve wracking walking into a room with so many fresh faces, I only knew Harry Souttar before, but I’ve settled in really well.”
Arnold charged Jones with adding some spark to the team going forward, a feature of his League One performances.
“What we do here is exactly the same as Bolton – attacking football,” he said.
“Arnold told me that when the ball is on the left side and the space on the right in front of me, I need to just make those runs, and I’ll get the space.
“When I get in the wide areas, I try and get as many crosses into the box while obviously doing my defensive duties as well.”
But Socceroo fans were less than impressed by his efforts against Syria.
Australia struggled to contain several Syrian counters but were much improved in the second half as Jackson Irvine squeezed home the only goal.
Jones has been playing an inverted role for the Socceroos and Erik Paartalu, speaking on the Network 10 post match coverage, creidted his positional play for opening the way for Martin Boyle’s decisive run into the box that led to Irvine’s winner.
“We saw Gethin Jones sitting inside allowed Marty Boyle to get one-one-one,” said Paartalu. “That allowed him the space to carry the ball inside and that allowed Irvine to take his time and think ‘Marty’s coming in, I’ll gamble and get myself in the box.’”
As they did in their 2-0 opening win over India, Australia laboured in the opening half. Arnold made three changes at the 57 minute mark – two before Irvine’s goal – and the most impressive injection of pace and energy came from Middlesbrough man Riley McGree.
“Former Soccer Luke Wilkshire hailed McGree’s impact off the bench, and the cameo increased calls for him to start against Uzbekistan as the Socceroos look to secure top place in Group B.
“He’s ever so positive,” said Wilkshire. “He’s always looking to go forward, drive forward and create.”
Australia have struggled against defensive opponents but the expectation, or hope, is that they’ll find better rhythm once they’re against better opposition and can play on the counter.
“Uzbekistan can be a great test for us because they’re going to open up and play football,” said Paartalu. So do we change our tactic to think about the round of 16 to be more defensive? If we try to play like that against Uzbekistan they’re going to hurt us.”